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I Want My DVD: Tuesday, July 10, 2012

by Ethan Alter July 10, 2012 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, July 10, 2012

With Comic-Con starting tomorrow night, Morgan Spurlock brings the convention to your living room.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope
Morgan Spurlock takes his cameras to San Diego's Comic-Con International for a whirlwind tour of the sights, sounds and smells of the city's four-day geek extravaganza. Following five primary individuals -- including an aspiring costume designer, a pair of wanna-be artists, a toy lover and that increasingly rare Comic-Con personality, a real live comic-book retailer -- the movie attempts to capture the experience of being there in San Diego's sprawling convention center and celebrate the spirit and enthusiasm of the attendees, and in that respect it qualifies as a success. What it doesn't do, however, is really delve into some of the larger stories surrounding Comic-Con, most notably the way it has been increasing co-opted by Hollywood as a marketing platform and the steady disappearance of actual comics from the convention floor. (One gets the sense that skimming over those subjects was the price Spurlock paid for receiving Comic-Con's full cooperation in making the movie.) Still, if you can't afford the airfare to San Diego, watching this movie is an acceptable substitute.
Extras: An interesting, if too-brief featurette about the making of the movie, which resembled a military operation in the way Spurlock dispatched multiple cameras all over the convention hall. There's also a batch of mostly forgettable deleted scenes and extended interviews with some of the famous talking heads -- Joss Whedon! Kevin Smith! Stan Lee! -- interviewed for the movie.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to see our picks for this year's must-see Comic-Con TV panels
Click here to see our picks for this year's must-see Comic-Con movie panels

Margaret
When it was released last fall after a six-year stint in editing room purgatory, Kenneth Lonergan's sophomore feature Margaret was almost designed to vanish without a trace: it arrived in theaters with little promotion and uneven reviews. But as more people saw this challenging, moving and, at times, frustrating feature about a 17-year-old Manhattan girl's (Anna Paquin, in a remarkably poised and sustained lead performance) traumatic coming-of-age, word of mouth spread and the #teammargaret movement was born. Additional playdates were booked, awards screeners were sent out and, buoyed by the reception, Lonergan himself started giving more interviews about the movie, its troubled post-production and the existence of a longer, three-hour cut as opposed to the 150-minute compromised version that he was contractually obligated to release in theaters. Now, the pro-Margaret campaign has culminated in the release of both cuts of the film on DVD. Interestingly, the extended cut isn't a radical departure from the theatrical version; the general structure is still largely intact and -- with the exception of one major subplot that's been added back in -- the new material mainly reinforces the ideas and themes that were already there. In fact, I'd recommend that viewers new to Margaret actually start with the theatrical cut as a way of acclimating themselves to the highly stylized, operatic tone Lonergan brings to the visual style and dialogue. That also allows you to more fully appreciate the added flourishes present in the extended version, most notably the way the director uses New York itself as a grand stage against which Paquin's private drama plays out. Taken together, both cuts of Margaret confirm that this is a special, unique film whose reputation will hopefully (and deservedly) grow over the years.
Extras: Nothing besides the extended cut, but that's probably the best extra us Margaret fans could have hoped for.
Click here to read our original review

American Reunion
Getting the original crew back together worked so well for Universal's Fast and the Furious franchise, the studio decided to apply the same model to another dormant series, the American Pie movies. American Reunion reunites the entire cast of the 1999 film (yes, even Natasha Lyonne and Shannon Elizabeth) on the eve of the East Great Falls High gang's 13-year reunion. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are married with kid; Oz (Chris Klein) is a famous sportscaster, but still pines for Heather (Mena Suvari); Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicolas) is happily married, yet feels familiar romantic stirrings when he sees his first girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid); and Stifler (Seann William Scott) is... well, still Stifler. While there are a few gags that work, for the most part American Reunion confirms that this particular franchise is long past its sell-by date. If you want to see what the next big teen movie phenom looks like, check out Project X and leave American Pie in the past.
Extras: An "out of control" track where cast members pop up to laugh at the onscreen antics; an additional commentary track with the directors and writers; deleted scenes, alternate takes and a gag reel; and multiple featurettes.
Click here to read our original review

Chariots of Fire
If all you remember of 1981's Best Picture winner is that soaring Vangelis score, this new Blu-ray release allows you to give it another look. Directed by Hugh Hudson, the based-on-a-true story narrative unfolds against the backdrop of the 1924 Summer Olympics, exploring the relationship between two English Olympic track stars: a devout Christian from a missionary family and a Jewish runner who has encountered prejudice at every turn. Dramatically, Chariots of Fire is a bit creaky today (a problem shared by other British super-productions from that era, like Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, which won the Best Picture trophy the following year), but the cast -- which includes Ian Holm, John Gielgud and Alice Krige -- is strong and if you're looking to get in the mood for this year's Summer Games, the racing sequences should quicken your pulse.
Extras: A commentary track with Best Director nominee Hudson; deleted scenes and screen tests; four making-of featurettes plus an additional three new featurettes, including a look back at the 1924 Olympics; and a CD sampler with four Vangelis tracks. It all comes in special book packaging with trivia and behind-the-scenes photos.

Love Birds
Ever wondered what a New Zealand romantic comedy might look like? As it turns out, a lot like an American one... albeit with the addition of one very noisy waterfowl. Kiwi comic Rhys Darby -- best known for playing the Bret and Jermaine's terrible manager/consular liaison Murray on Flight of the Conchords -- nabs a part that would probably have gone to James Marsden or Chris Pine on this side of the Pacific as Doug, a nice, slightly dorky guy nursing a wounded heart after his girlfriend ditches him. That's when a hurt duck falls from the sky and onto his porch and, after making some attempts to pawn him off on someone else, he decides to man up and nurse the duck back to health on his own. To give him a crash-course in duck maintenance, Doug turns to attractive single vet Holly (Sally Hawkins) and the two inevitably bond over more than the duck. Things play out pretty much how you'd expect from there, with the predictable complications of Holly's young son, Doug's ex and the bird's sudden disappearance. It goes down smoothly though, thanks to the charisma of Darby and Hawkins and the exotic (for us Yanks anyway) New Zealand settings. If and when this does get a Hollywood remake, we'd recommend setting it somewhere equally unexpected. Maybe North Dakota?
Extras: Interviews with Darby and Hawkins and a featurette.

Also on DVD:
Speaking of Comic-Con, two comic book movies are re-released on Blu-ray this week, Guillermo Del Toro's Blade II, one of those sequels that outclasses the original, and Spawn, the ill-fated live-action version of Todd McFarlane's devilish hero. A bomb at the time of its release, Spawn hasn't gotten any better with age, but it's fascinating to watch just to see how misconceived the film is on almost every level. Christian Bale lends some American star power to Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War, a period epic set during the Rape of Nanking, when Japanese troops invaded and massacred the population of China's one-time capital city in 1937. Robert De Niro gives one of his more engaged performances in some time as a cabbie who imagines himself the next great American novelist in Being Flynn, but the film itself is a largely clunky, too-familiar father/son drama. The first five minutes are worth checking out, if only to see the obvious visual references to De Niro's seminal role in Taxi Driver. Finally, a slew of older sci-fi titles arrive in high-def versions, starting with Frequency, the underrated 2000 film starring Jim Caviezel and Dennis Quaid as a father and son who are able to communicate with each other across time via a special radio. Working backwards from there, 1983's Brainstorm is perhaps most famous for being Natalie Wood's final film before she drowned on a boat trip accompanied by her husband Robert Wagner and her co-star Christopher Walken. Sean Connery plays a Jupiter-based policeman in 1981's interplanetary crime movie, Outland Ken Russell's trippy 1980 feature Altered States stars William Hurt as a scientist who uses himself as a test subject with predictably dire results. Last, but not least, 1978's Coma was author Michael Crichton's second feature as a director, adapted from Robin Cook's novel. 34 years later, it's still a great deal of fun, capped by a killer plot twist.

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